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  • Song of the Andoumboulou: 23
  • Nathaniel Mackey

This poem originally appeared in SULFUR34 (Spring 1994).

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rail band

      Another cut was on the box as we pulled     in. Fall back though we   did once it ended,                     “Wings         of a Dove” sung so       sweetly we flew...     The Station Hotel came into view. We were in         Bamako. The same scene       glimpsed again and           again said to be a                     sign...   As of a life sought       beyond the letter,     preached of among those who knew nothing but,                     at yet     another “Not yet” Cerno         Bokar came aboard, the       elevens and the twelves locked           in jihad at each other’s   throats,      bracketed light         lately revealed, otherwise                     out...       Eleven men covered with     mud he said he saw. A           pond filled with water white as milk. Three chanting         clouds that were crowds of       winged men and behind the                     third           a veiled rider, Shaykh                     Hamallah...       For this put under house arrest             the atavistic band at the     station reminded us, mediumistic         squall we’d have maybe made                     good on   had the rails we rode been                     Ogun’s...       Souls in motion, conducive     to motion,      too loosely       connected to be called a     band, yet “if souls converse”   vowed results from a dusty                     record   ages old             .

      Toothed chorus. Tight-jawed singer...      Sophic strain,     strewn voice, sophic stretch...   Cerno Bokar came aboard,                     called       war the male ruse,                     muttered     it under his breath, made sure                     all within         earshot heard...                     Not that the             hoarse Nyamakala flutes were   not enough, not that enough       meant something exact                     anymore...     Bled by the effort but sang           even so,      Keita’s voice,                     Kante’s voice, boast and belittlement         tossed back and forth...                     Gassire’s       lute was Djelimady Tounkara’s                     guitar,   Soundiata, Soumagoro, at each other’s     throat...      Tenuous Kin we called our would-be band, Atthic Ensemble,                     run       with as if it was a mistake we made   good on,      gone soon as we’d                     gotten there             .

    Neither having gone nor not having         gone, hovered,      book, if it                     was a   book, thought wicked with wing-stir,           imminent sting... It was the book       of having once been there we             thumbed, all wish to go back           let go,      the what-sayer,                     farther               north, insisting a story lay       behind the story he complained he             couldn’t begin to infer...                     What         made him think there was one           we wondered, albeit our what     almost immediatelv dissolved as we                     came       to a tunnel, the train we took ourselves to be on gone up in         smoke,      people ever about to get     ready, unready, run between what,                     not-what.             And were there one its name was         Ever After, a story not behind but in               front of where this was,obstinate           “were,” were obstinate so susceptible,                     thin       etic itch, inextricable                     demur             .

        Beginningless book thought to’ve   unrolled endlessly, more scroll     than book, talismanic strum. As if all want were in his holding       a note      only a half-beat                     longer,     another he was now calling love         a big rope, sing less what   he did than sihg, anagrammic sigh,       from war the male ruseto “were” the                 new ruse,      the what-sayer,                     sophic         stir... Sophic slide of a cloud across tangency, torque,      no book of a           wished else      the where                     we     thumbed

Performers: Royal Hartigan (drums), Nathaniel Mackey (vocals), Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor saxophone).

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